President’s Message, Summer, 2019

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Greetings, members and friends!

The International Women’s Convocation had a busy spring, participating in two events in New York City – the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women meetings in March, and in the UU-UNO Intergenerational Seminar on Gender Equity in April.

At the Intergenerational Seminar, IWC board members from India (Elgiva Shullai), Philippines (Rev. Elvira Sienes), and Romania (Gizella Nagy) took part in a workshop conversation on gender equity in a global context, and IWC executive director Zsófia Sztranyiczki gave participants  fascinating insights  on how gender is constructed in various languages, highlighting gender biases that shape and reinforce gender inequity across cultures. Please read Elgiva, Elvira, and Gizella’s reflections on the seminar on pages 2-3 of this newsletter.

At the conclusion of the intergenerational seminar, the IWC organized its own event on global women’s empowerment and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Women’s Association of the UU Church of the Philippines, formalizing their ongoing collaboration to promote women’s equality, development, social justice, security, and peace. Please see the report on pages 4-5; the summary of the latest AWAKE training to prevent violence against women and girls in the Philippines (Siapo, Negros Oriental) is found on pages 6-7.

General Assembly is in Spokane, Washington later this month; if you  are attending, we hope you will plan to be at our poster session on Thursday, June 20, noon to 1:30 pm in Exhibit Hall A. IWC treasurer Geri Kennedy and board members Kathy Burek and Karen Kortsch are looking forward to greeting and chatting with members, friends, and interested passers-by. This is a wonderful occasion for you to get to know us better, find out more about our organization, and get answers to any questions you might have.

If you are passionate about women’s empowerment around the world and are looking for the opportunity to serve while making a global difference, the International Women’s Convocation might be your place! We are currently seeking individuals interested in joining our various committees; if you are interested, please send us an email at admin@icuuw.com.

Our Annual Meeting this year will not take place at the UUA General Assembly but on the ZOOM online platform in September. The specific date and time as well as other important details will be announced soon.

As we mourn the passing of Rev. Dr. Dorothy May Emerson, we also remember how her work changed the landscape of Unitarian Universalism. Her passion and commitment to U*U women and women’s leadership were exemplary. We are honored to follow in her footsteps as we continue the work of empowerment and equality for women and girls worldwide.

IWC Signs Agreement of Collaboration with UU Women’s Association of Philippines

By Zsófia Sztranyiczki, IWC Executive Director

IWC Signs Agreement of Collaboration with UU Women’s Association of Philippines

On April 13, 2019 in New York City, IWC president Rev. Addae Ama Kraba and Rev. Ma. Elvira Peras Sienes, coordinator of the Women’s Association of the UU Church of the Philippines (UUCP) signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining key areas of collaboration.  The event was preceded by a panel discussion on global gender equity, which was open to the public. In attendance were several IWC board members and friends.

The panel discussion, which was live streamed on Facebook (available for viewing on IWC’s Facebook page) highlighted U*U women’s work for global women’s empowerment, challenges, and accomplishments; it also explored ways of engagement and further action. U*U women leaders Gizella Nagy from Romania, Elgiva Shullai from India, and Rev. Sienes from the Philippines talked about their ongoing efforts to advance gender equality, highlighting the need to expand education about women’s rights, build women’s capacity and self-esteem, and provide opportunities to change the status quo. One of the most difficult challenges they are confronted with is changing patriarchal mindsets and norms: such attitudes and values are so ingrained in the cultures of the three panelists, that even women end up embracing the very beliefs that disrespect them, endanger their lives, or diminish their worth.  All agreed that men and boys need to be part of the solution as allies in the cause of gender equality.

After the signing ceremony, Ms. Nagy presented 850 USD to Rev. Sienes, representing the collection from Unitarian churches in Transylvania in honor of International Women’s Day 2018, for the benefit of UU women in the Philippines. UNOSZ has engaged in IWC’s International Women’s Day initiative for the last 4 years, with the plate collections each year being directed to women’s empowerment projects led by U*U women and organizations.

The formal agreement of collaboration signed between IWC and the Women’s Association of the UUCP lays the foundation for a productive exchange, helping to develop a long and fruitful partnership builds on sharing resources, expanding cooperation, and working together on projects for women’s equality, development, social justice, security, and peace.

 

AWAKE Seminar Helps Change Gender Perceptions in Siapo, Philippines

By Rev. Ma. Elvira Peras Sienes, the Philippines

AWAKE Seminar Helps Change Gender Perceptions in Siapo, Philippines

The AWAKE (Awake Women and Men Through Knowledge and Education) Seminar on the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls was implemented in Siapo, San Jose, Negros Oriental, on three consecutive Saturdays in February 2019.

Siapo has a small UU congregation; most of its members are small-scale farmers; a few work for the government or the private sector. 22 attended the first day of training, four of which were men. Men are usually the breadwinners and most work all day long (only very few men can attend church even on Sundays).

Rev. Rebecca Quimada-Sienes started the training, singing together the song for reflection entitled “Buta” (Blind). The song depicts the reality of women living in a “culture of silence:” if they witness or become victims of a violent situation, if their rights are violated, they will just keep quiet and choose not to tell because they are frightened. The sharing of reflection of the song was very moving since it opened the opportunity for the women to share their thoughts and – to some degree – even their personal experiences. That activity turned out to be a good warm-up for the day.

The second topic that Rev. Rebecca tackled was the “personal perception of women by women.” In this activity, the participants were asked to write down their thoughts about “women in general.” After the activity, I helped in the processing of the shared thoughts. The results indicated that the participants’ perception about women is greatly influenced by the prevailing Filipino culture.

I continued with a lecture on the “history of women’s oppression,” attributed to Spanish (and partly to American and Japanese) colonization in the Philippines. This topic made participants understand why there is violence and why it is so rampant even in the most secure place we call “home.”

On the succeeding Saturday, February 9, I was the facilitator of the workshop on the “personal perception of men by men.” Of the 25 attendees, only 6 were men. Since they were very few, I decided to include the women in the workshop; women were asked to share their perception about men in general.

What transpired was that a deeply entrenched patriarchal culture enforces the notion that men are first-class citizen while women are second-class, even “possessions” of men. I stressed that this is the very reason why seminars and workshops are so important, for women and men both, to understand and deepen the understanding of the root causes of violence in the family, institutional structures, and society at large. This activity led me to discuss “the oppressors” and “the oppressed.” I tried to emphasize that the purpose of the discussion was not to undermine the potential of men or to personally attack them. I strongly encouraged everyone to share their thoughts and even personal experience related to the topic. It was indeed a fruitful day for all of us!

The third and final day (February 16) focused on the Philippine law RA 9262, The Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act (VAWC) of 2004. It is a special law that defines acts of violence against women and their children, penalizes such acts, and provides protective measures and remedies.

A member of the Barangay/Village Council, who is also the VAWC Desk Officer, discussed the definition and types of violence against women and children and the protection orders this law provides. A lot of sharing happened during this day. One woman confessed, “something really happened in ourselves; if we are just willing to change our mindset and embrace new ideas, we can achieve change in the family, which will eventually resonate in the community. Let us always keep in mind that we, women, have equal rights. We just need to practice and use our rights if we want to achieve something.

In closing, I highlighted that each of us has the power to prevent abuse. I encouraged all to work together for lasting change: a peaceful, violence-free world.

I want to personally thank all who contributed to IWC’s Faithify fund raising efforts to make the AWAKE training possible in Philippine UU communities. Together, we can change the world!

Spotlighting Women’s Rights and Gender-Based Violence for Shillong Circle Unitarians

By Major Elgiva Dora Shullai, Seng Kynthei, India

Training To Prevent Violence Against Women in ShillongOn February 19, 2019, 35 participants – including men and youth – took part in the awareness program on violence against women and children at Nongthymmai, organized by Seng Kynthei, the Women’s Wing of the North East India Unitarian Union. Invitations had been sent out to all men, women, and youth of the six to seven congregations in the Shillong circle. We were happy to see a few senior mothers, who seemed genuinely concerned with the safety and security of the new generation. Even though the event took place during the winter holidays for youth and government workers, inclement weather hindered a much larger participation.

The two resource persons of the program were Gina Phanbuh and Balarisha Lyngdoh, both experienced trainers. They work with a prominent NGO, The Northeast Network, a women’s rights organization operating in Meghalaya and in neighboring states.

Seng Kynthei Secretary Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri welcomed everyone and gave a brief introduction to the importance of this awareness program.

Balarisha Lyngdoh started with the section on Gender, explaining how ‘understanding gender is the key to achieving gender equity.’ Gender is a role created by us as a society where we consciously or unconsciously condition our children to adhere to various roles, expectations, rules, and norms that will eventually lead to gender inequality and all its negative effects. This also results in the misuse and abuse of the power between the powerful and the powerless, which invariably leads to violence. Most victims are women and children.

The sensitive subject was tactfully delivered to suit all audiences using audio-visual aids such as gentle explanation, white board, video, and slideshows to catch important points to remember and practice.

We were made aware that we had all played our part, as a society, in getting us where we are with this social menace. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to advance gender equality. In the prevention aspects, we are encouraged to be non-discriminating and non-judgmental; to teach our children to respect one another; and to enable our children and family members to grow and live peacefully while maintaining the safety and security of each person in the community.

Prevent Violence Against Women, Shillong, India

After a short lunch break, our second resource person Gina Phanbuh focused on women’s rights. She explained the difference between ‘needs’ (air, water, food, shelter, clothing, family, money, etc.) and ‘rights’ (e.g. the freedom to make decisions and take responsibility; equal respect to every individual in every space no matter their sexual orientation; equal right to an education; sexual and reproductive health and rights; the right to work and equal pay for equal work; right to property; and the right of access to public information).  ‘Women’s rights are human rights’ she reminded us. ‘More than 180 nations have signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and more countries are signing it as we speak.’

Needs and rights are interlinked and interdependent; they are basic requirements for human beings to live a healthy, productive, and meaningful life. Women are entitled to their rights, but we are far from a world where every woman and girl can realize and enjoy her human rights. It is the duty of every government to look after its citizens and to provide for basic needs and rights. Gina stressed that every woman must know her rights and the various governmental laws and policies that relate to those rights.

Overall, it was a very educational and interactive workshop that made all of us more aware and conscious of our roles and responsibilities to prevent violence and bring about peace and consistency in our communities.

At the conclusion of the program, we all read the White Ribbon Pledge together.

Seng Kynthei President Kong Battinora Rani summed up the event, thanking all the participants and organizers.

I thank all who have actively supported us in every possible way to educate and bring awareness programs at the grassroots level, and to all those who are promoting the welfare of women and girls in Meghalaya.

The President’s Message

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Greetings,

IWC is committed to empowering women globally and advancing gender equality. As we continue to further this important mission, we recognize that collaborating with groups who have corresponding missions is vital. We may have dropped plans for a women’s gathering in the Boston area this coming spring with representatives of U.S.-based UU women’s organizations, but you can be sure that constructive discussions with the UU Women’s Federation and UU Women &Religion continue. We look forward to opportunities for greater collaboration.

February is Black History month, and more businesses than ever recognize and celebrate the achievements of African Americans and the contributions they’ve made on the world stage. The focused highlighting of a people and their culture provides an opportunity to gain more information about the unsung African Americans left on the margins, particularly women.

“Equity in Action: Gender in an Intersecting World” is the theme of the Intergenerational Spring Conference of the UU-UNO (April 11-13, 2019). This theme serves as motivation to develop new and more creative ways of empowering and supporting women. Following the conference, we welcome the opportunity of engaging with global sisters from Romania, India and the Philippines as they address Gender Equity in a panel discussion at Community Church of New York. Please join us!

The United Nation’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” We have reason to celebrate the increasing numbers of women who are inspired and empowered to enter into roles that have been traditionally male-dominated. Please join us in honoring and celebrating International Women’s Day in 2019: a comprehensive packet for congregations is available for download/consultation, on our website.

The trajectory of empowering women continues upwards globally. A pilot leadership development program was successfully completed in Bolivia, where women took part in workshops that not only focused on leadership and entrepreneurship, but on topics aimed at increasing awareness of violence. Violence against women is also being addressed by the Seng Kynthei Women’s Wing of the Northeast India Unitarian Union and the UU Women’s Association of Philippines in comprehensive programs that engage men in strategies to reduce and prevent gender-based violence. IWC is justly proud to have assisted all three of these important programs.

2018 will be remembered for its activism, mostly led by grassroots groups and unwavering individuals. Let us carry that same spirit forward into 2019, inspired by the incredible power, resolve, and boldness of women around the globe.

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba, IWC President

45 Women Take Part in a Pilot Leadership Program in Bolivia

by Calixta Choque Churata, Xiomara Sainz Salinas, and Zsófia Sztranyiczki

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Program graduates with their certificates

The pilot leadership development program in Bolivia – implemented thanks to the generous support of people who contributed on Faithify, a UU crowd funding website – concluded on November 11, 2018. The bi-weekly training courses in sewing, hairdressing, and baking – over a three-month period – were complemented with workshops addressing Economic Empowerment and Economic Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Gender and Society (with a special topic on masculinity, machoism, and femicides), Prevention of Domestic/Family Violence, and Spirituality and Meditation.

The closing of the pilot program was a moving ceremony where the families of 40 out of the program’s 45 participants congregated in a shared lunch prepared by the participants themselves. The families included children, mothers, and relatives; a representative of the Board of Neighbors of the town of Viacha also honored the event with his presence.

viacha-bolivia-womens-leadership-training-programThe graduates of the program exhibited their works, talked about what they learned, their experiences, as well as their dreams and hopes. The sewing class displayed sportswear, cholita skirts, and jackets. The baking class provided cakes, pies, and puddings. The hairdressing class presented a variety of hairstyles, haircuts, makeups and fantasy makeups. The training course with the most participants was hairdressing; it also had the greatest number of young people (some in high school), who found in hairdressing a potential source of employment and income – since the course already enabled them to work during periods of high demand.

In thanking IWC for the opportunities that the program created, the women asked project leaders and the local team (Calixta Choque Churata, Xiomara Sainz Salinas, and Olga Flores Bedregal) to convey their desire to continue with this initiative. They feel the need to continue not only for themselves – but for their families as well.viacha-bolivia-womens-leadership-training-program3a

These courses were an inspiring spark for participants to think about paths to better livelihoods and to confront their situation of gender marginality. During the training, the participants established a neighborhood organization of women, realizing that a union would make them stronger: a sorority environment is the way to support each other and face hardships together. As Olga Flores Bedregal put it, “the more knowledge and tools are put in women´s hands, the more impact they will have toward a greater autonomy of women.”

The IWC is now looking forward to exploring next steps with the local team, building on the experiences of the pilot training.  The discussions will focus on program sustainability, developing capacities for long-term success, and strengthening women’s community.

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Calixta (in green), with graduates
of the baking class

It was once said that a leader is someone who ‘lifts us up, gives us a reason for being and gives the vision and spirit to change.” Project leader Calixta Choque Churrata, who undertook most of the planning, organization, and logistics of the pilot program, is a leader who inspires. Here’s her message to everyone who supported the pilot program: “For my part, I thank you for making these training courses possible and bringing hope of improvement to the women of the District 7 and the municipality of Viacha, who are confronting many hardships. Thank you for encouraging us to look beyond and dream of the future.”

                                                                                                                                                                                

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Delia (in the middle) with her certificate

Bolivia Pilot Program Participant Shares Her Experiences

My name is Delia Alexandra Fernández Vargas.

I am 18 years old. This is my last year of school. I want to go to the university. I am thinking of studying biochemistry.

I took the hairdressing training course because I like to learn hairstyles, hair care, new looks. I learned many useful things: for example, skin lightening, facial cleaning, hair care, massages, hair and skin hydration, new looks, and types of hair dyes. The teacher was very good. She knows her profession. I see myself doing hairstyles, hair dyes, or facial cleaning. I can offer these new skills.

This training will definitely help me in the future. I wish I could learn so much more. The training course lasted a short time.  I would recommend more classes per week and specific sessions (one day only for massages for example).

I am grateful for what I learned. My heartfelt thanks go to all the people who gave us the opportunity of taking these courses.

Seng Kynthei Raises Awareness of Violence in Karbi Anglong, Assam, India

by Major Elgiva Dora Shullai, Global Sister Coordinator, SKUUNEI

Seng Kynthei Raises Awareness of Violence in Karbi Anglong, Assam, IndiaOn October 19, 2018, eight Seng Kynthei members took a trip to Karbi Anglong district: a 12-hour journey through Assam state to conduct an awareness program on violence against women. In attendance were Seng Kynthei president Kong Battinora Rani, Seng Kynthei secretary Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri, Kong Elginia Lamar (a senior member), Dr. Rica Lamar and Elgiva Shullai as resource persons, Kong Angelina Law and Kong Wakawyrta Chadap from Mukhap village, and Kong Aloma Bourine Shullai from Jowai.

Rugged jungle tracks, heavy with deep puddles and sludges that hampered our speed, made the journey to Karbi Anglong an obstacle course. On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by our Unitarian sisters and brothers. After arranging the venue and all requirements for the program the following day, we had a short prayer service.

Seventy-eight, both men and women, took part in the program. The event began with a warm welcome from Kansang Chinthongpi (Longduk Anglong), the secretary of the Karbi Anglong Circle, followed by greetings and then chalice lighting from our Karbi women’s wing. A prayer was offered by Kong Battinora Rani. Many helped with registration, photographing and recording, distributing pamphlets, and facilitator work. Mr. Arjun Sing Kathar, a very energetic and lively youth, was our interpreter throughout the day.

As the first resource person, I presented an introduction and objectives: a brief statement as to why it is so important to address gender-based violence. After sharing recent news on violence against women and girls, I talked about gender, gender-based violence, differences between sex and gender, and types of violence. The subject was tailored to a mixed crowd of men, women, and youth. The men were encouraged to remain vigilant and aware at all times as violence may concern the safety of their own relations and loved ones.

A short exercise on the role of our society in defining gender followed. At this point, sharing and responses from participants were minimal. Most of the women were quiet; this type of a program was very new to them.  However, at the conclusion of the program, many expressed joy that we had raised awareness and made the subject less disturbing to discuss.

Dr. Rica Lamar presented Indian laws and regulations meant to curb incidences of violence against women and children and to punish perpetrators. Participants were also acquainted with the White Ribbon Campaign and the importance of observing the International day of Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25) as well as International Women’s Day (March 8).

We presented a poster about the #MeToo movement and urged attendees to become involved by sending their personal stories to a national email address created by the Government of India: ncw.metoo@gmail.com. In addition, various informational pamphlets were distributed: Dos and Don’ts when raped, information on helplines, government shelters, hospitals, and police stations.

To conclude, we read the White Ribbon Pledge together, led by Mr. Rajendra Teron. Dr. Creamlimon Nongbri thanked participants and organizers alike, acknowledging the active participation of women and men in the Karbi Anglong Circle. Mr. Mon Sing Kathar, assistant minister, proposed a vote of thanks on behalf of the Karbi Circle, which was followed by a song from the hymn book, “God Be with You till We Meet Again.” The benediction was given by Mrs. Cheribon Millickpi (Zirikyndeng), chairperson of Karbi Circle. Group photos and boxed lunch in the church front yard followed.

I take this opportunity to thank the Unitarian Union of North East India, our Seng Kynthei members (especially our senior members who have always supported us with a lot of positivity and enthusiasm), each participant who has felt the need and responsibility to attend the program, our resource persons, as well as our sponsors and guides at all levels who have made this program a success.

Engaging Women and Men to End Gender-Based Violence:  Kalumboyan, Negros Oriental, the Philippines

by Rev. Rebecca Sienes, the Philippines

AWAKE – a violence awareness program in Philippine UU communitiesThanks to a very successful Faithify campaign last year, the IWC supports AWAKE – a violence awareness program in Philippine UU communities, implemented in collaboration with the Women’s Association of the UU Church of the Philippines and Buhata Pinay (“Do It, Filipina”), Inc., an NGO that focuses on microfinance, health, and education for women of Negros Island.

The AWAKE program – Awake Women & Men through Knowledge & Education – was designed by the UUCP to enhance awareness of violence against women and educate participants about violence against women and girls and its effects on individuals, family, and society at large.

Violence against women and girls is a culturally ingrained phenomenon that must be addressed. The UU Church of the Philippines (UUCP) has been trying to adopt effective counter measures to reduce gender-based violence. The Our Whole Lives (OWL) program promotes healthy sexuality, educates youth, and prevents harmful behaviors. The innovative OWL orientation session for parents is also a great antidote to senseless comments from parents, many of whom think sex should not be talked about on church premises.

In January 2019, AWAKE was implemented in Kalumboyan, a barangay (suburb) in the city of Bayawan, in the province of Negros Oriental. The training took place over three consecutive Saturdays and brought together 66 people, 46 women and 20 men.

For this training, Rev. Rebecca Sienes and Rev. Elvira (Elvie) Sienes re-designed AWAKE based on Elvie’s ideas and work experience with Tuburan, an NGO focusing on rural women’s empowerment. The first day, Rev. Rebecca introduced Buhata Pinay and explained its programs; after which an interactive session addressed Philippine culture and women’s self-perception. Rev. Elvie then presented an overview of the pre-colonial and colonial history of the Philippines to make participants aware about the status of women during the pre-colonial period and the subsequent foreign (Spanish and American) rule, when patriarchy became a dominant system.

On the second day, short films on domestic abuse in various races and cultures were shown. Rev. Elvie worked separately with the participating men, who were asked how they felt about being considered first-class citizens, their thoughts about gender-based violence, and how they could engage in combatting and preventing it.

On the third day, interactive games and activities raised awareness of the topic, and Rev. Rebecca talked about sources of violence. Rev. Elvie spoke on forms of violence and presented RA 9262 – the legal act that defines violence against women and their children, provides for protective measures for victims, and prescribes penalties. At the end of the program, RA 9262 brochures as well as the form for requesting a Barangay Protection Order were distributed.

Buhata Pinay and the UU Women’s Association of Philippines are committed to ongoing work in this very important mission of our faith.

The President’s Column by Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

Rev. Addae Ama Kraba

It is my great honor, privilege, and opportunity to serve as the new president of IWC. As my three-year term begins, I will seek to build on the successes of the organization to further its important mission of empowering women worldwide. As we start implementing IW’s new strategic plan, we will seek your engagement to achieve our organizational goals. Stay tuned for more specific details.

Please join us in honoring and celebrating International Women’s Day in 2019: a comprehensive packet for congregations is available for download/consultation, on our website.

The leadership pilot program in Bolivia is now under way – thank you to all those who donated to IWC’s Faithify campaign in the spring! Please read the exciting report on pages 2-3.

IWC and the UU Women’s Federation have adopted a joint statement in response to the Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court because we believe in a world without patriarchy and toxic masculinity – and we pledge to do our part in dismantling oppressive patriarchal structures and putting an end to a culture of misogyny and rape.

I’m delighted to announce the launch of several violence awareness and prevention programs, in partnerships with national U*U women’s organizations in Transylvania, India, and the Philippines. More information is listed on pages 6-9.

Julie Steinbach reports on the success of a #MeToo-era campaign led by Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, stream speaker at the Third Convocation; Dauber’s new project aims to make violence against women a voting issue in U.S. (page 12). IWC’s workshop at UUA General Assembly in June tackled gender-based violence in U*U congregations and communities (more information on pages 10-11).

UNOSZ, the Unitarian Women’s Association of Romania – in collaboration with IWC – launched a book of prayers and meditations on the 450th anniversary of the Edict of Torda. U*U women from all corners of the world contributed to this special publication, and efforts are being made to make it available outside of Romania.

We are honored to welcome Matilda Kiss from Transylvania, a great addition to our board of directors. A brief biography is listed on page 15.

Given the recent events surrounding the U.S. President’s pick for the Supreme Court and the reports of the violence awareness programs and campaigns in this newsletter, I feel that our work is more valuable than ever. Your continued support for our mission to empower women is greatly appreciated.

Pilot Training in Bolivia: Building Women’s Capacity to Spark Change

 

By Calixta Choque Churata, Xiomara Sainz Salinas, and Zsófia Sztranyiczki

pilot-training-in-bolivia-building-womens-capacity-to-spark-changeThe leadership pilot program in Bolivia – launched thanks to women and men who donated to IWC’s Faithify campaign in the spring – kicked off in August under the leadership of project coordinator Calixta Choque Churata. A Unitarian and former human development director in the Luribay Municipality of Bolivia, Calixta attended IWC’s 2015 Gathering in Bolivia, where she emerged as a leader to carry forth the participants’ commitments to action.

The pilot initiative aims to build the capacity of women to unleash their leadership potential, empowering them to spark change in their own lives and in the lives of their families and communities. The project takes place in District 7 of Viacha (a city next to El Alto and close to La Paz that is home to Aymara immigrants; it has 45 thousand inhabitants, most living in poverty). Women in this area are overwhelmingly homemakers or street vendors (and thus part of the informal economy). State services including health facilities are scarce, streets are full of dust, and there is no garbage collection or sewage system.

pilot-training-in-bolivia-building-womens-capacity-to-spark-changeThree practical simultaneous workshops – vocational training in hairdressing, sewing, and baking – are empowering women economically, breaking down the barriers that hold women back. Each training has approximately 20 women of all ages, and many take their children with them. The baking class teaches how to make bread, cookies, empanadas, and Swiss rolls. The sewing class teaches how to master a sewing machine and has produced cholitas (traditional pleated skirts), tablecloths, sportswear, and other types of clothing. The hairdressing class is quite popular because the professional hairdressing school is far away and costly. Incidentally, the clientele has grown substantially since the classes provide free haircuts for the children of poor mothers.

The program plans to build women’s leadership capacities and skills through topics addressing entrepreneurship, labor rights, personal skills (developing self-esteem and self-confidence), domestic violence prevention, as well as spirituality. The leadership courses envisioned will take place outside of class schedules or in class hours, depending on the situation. The resource persons for these courses come from institutions or specialists on the topics.

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As of this writing, a few introductory sessions have been implemented focusing on power, toxic masculinity, and femicides; entrepreneurship (how to start a small enterprise); leadership; as well as spirituality and meditation. Two women broke their silence, coming forward to share their domestic violence experiences, two in public, and one in private. The meditation classes revealed that the women didn’t have any experience with meditation, providing their first time for self-observation. They could feel, at least for a few seconds, inner peace. This process will help them lead to more self-awareness and acceptance of who they are; it will enhance their self-confidence to make empowering, conscious choices.

pilot-training-in-bolivia-building-womens-capacity-to-spark-change“The pilot project in Bolivia is a demonstration that with few resources it is possible to support the training of women to increase their income, as a step towards their better economic positioning,” says Olga Flores Bedregal, leader of a small UU community in La Paz. In addition, leadership skills and attitudes will enable them to bring positive change not only in their lives and that of their families but in their communities as well.